Three Sisters Garden

Guest post by Lina Martin and Lauren Cornelius from the Native American Center for Health Professionals who collaborated on our Three Sisters Garden this year (2022).

The NACHP 3 Sisters garden was started in 2014 for our students to get an introduction to traditional foodways of Iroquois tribe. Seeds were donated by local tribes who have partnered with NACHP to ensure that Native students’ education include cultural practices that support health and wellbeing. The garden has had many homes over the years, often in the yards of our staff or NACHP faculty supporters, most recently being housed at the community garden in Eagle Heights. NACHP is happy to see the garden have a new home at the Allen Centennial Garden this year!

Multiple shapes and colors of seeds arranged in a sunburst
Three Sisters Seeds
Lauren Cornelius and Ryan Dostal planting a mound in the Three Sisters Garden.
NACHP and ACG Staff outside kitchen garden
Three Sisters Garden Planting Team. From Left to Right: Lauren Cornelius, Isaac Zaman, Aleigha Fandre, Reba Luiken, Ryan Dosta, and Lina Martin

A three sisters garden is called this because the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people referred to the three vegetables; corn, beans, and squash, as “sisters”. The “sisters” all have a role in providing support for the group to grow to their fullest potential. The corn provides stability for the bean vines to crawl up, the beans help with nutrient in the soil, and the squash leaves provide shade on the ground and deter weeds from growing. This system is called companion planting, where the corn, beans and squash growing together allow the individual plants to flourish more together than if planted alone. Much like our students, the 3 sisters plants thrive with the support of one another.

Corn, Beans, and Squash growing together a few weeks after planting
Corn, Beans, and Squash growing together a few weeks after planting

When it’s time to harvest, the vegetables are used for either future planting or for food. One of the staple dishes of Haudenosaunee people is corn soup. Traditional white corn soup is made with the harvested corn, pork, and beans. Iroquois white corn has a higher nutritional value than today’s sweet yellow corn. The white color indicates low sugar, and the nutrients of the corn are high in protein, fiber, and amino acids.

Kitchen garden overflowing with squash leaves
Three Sisters Garden overflowing with squash leaves in August